Several of the usual suspects howled in indignation at my last post, Back to Basics on Whether Truth is Adaptive. Seversky, goodusername, Pindi, Starbuck, critical rationalist, and rvb8 all embarrassed themselves to one degree or another.
This surprised me, because my thesis – that evolutionary theory predicts that belief in the truth is not always adaptive, and, conversely, belief in a falsehood can be adaptive – is a commonplace among evolutionary theorists. It is not the least bit controversial, as I made plain with quotes from Pinker, Baum, Hoffman, Varki, Brower, and even Darwin himself (his famous “horrid doubt” quote).
So I challenged my interlocutors. If you don’t think what I am saying is true, then cite a paper that argues for the opposite proposition: that truth is always adaptive and falsehood is always maladaptive.
The entirely predictable response to the challenge: [crickets]
My interlocutors seemed to be especially flummoxed by the following example I used to illustrate the point:
Oog the caveman thinks Saber Toothed tigers are fun to play with. But he also thinks the best way to play with tigers is to run and hide. Both ideas are contrary to reality. But in combination they result in his survival. Oog is fit under Darwinism’s definition of fit.
For example Goodusername wrote: “Oog doesn’t have long to live.” Why would GUN say that? The example specifically says Oog survived, and why is that surprising? After all, running and hiding when he sees a tiger is one of the best survival behaviors I can imagine.
Nevertheless, GUN insists that Oog’s days are numbered, because he is not thinking straight. THAT IS THE POINT GUN! Natural selection does not care whether Oog is thinking straight. It only cares if his behavior results in his survival. In the example Oog ran and hid and survived. It makes no difference as far as Darwinian fitness is concerned that Oog hid for the wrong reason. The only thing that matters from a fitness perspective is that he hid and therefore survived.
Bottom line: Oog’s false beliefs about playing games with tigers led to a behavior (hiding) that resulted in his survival. Therefore, when Oog acted on the basis of these false beliefs, it increased his fitness (which means nothing more than that he survived to pass along his genes).
Why is this so hard to understand? This is pretty basic stuff. Yet, Rvb8 wrote: “this Oog chap seems to have a parlous grip on his environment and its inhabitants.”
Yes, Rvb8, that is true. And again, that is the point! Oog’s mental grasp on reality is utterly irrelevant to natural selection so long as it leads him to ACT in a way that increases his chances of surviving. And running and hiding from tigers definitely does that for obvious reasons.
Barry, what I am disagreeing with is that a caveman that was so poorly adapted to his environment that be believes sabre tooth tigers are fun to play with is going to survive long enough to breed in comparison to a caveman who recognizes the truth about sabre tooth tigers. Surely that is obvious. I can’t believe you are denying it with a straight face.
*sigh* The point of the example is that Oog IS adapted to his environment. How is he adapted to his environment? Even though he does so for the wrong reason, he runs and hides when he sees a tiger. Maybe another example will help you understand this basic concept:
- Scenario one: Oog sees a tiger, and he says to himself, “that tiger wants to play games, and I know his favorite game is hide and seek. I will run into this cave where he can’t find me.” Oog then hides in the cave; the tiger does not find him, and Oog survives.
- Scenario two: Ugm sees a tiger, and he says to himself, “that tiger is dangerous. I will run into this cave where he can’t find me.” Ugm then hides in the cave; the tiger does not find him, and Ugm survives.
As between Oog and Ugm, which is more “fit” as far as natural selection is concerned? Trick question. They both survived, and if this one incident is all we know about them, they are equally fit even though Oog acted on false beliefs and Ugm acted on true beliefs. The ONLY way to actually measure relative fitness is to measure relative survival rates. If survival rates are the same, fitness is the same.
I hope our Darwinist friends appreciate the education in Darwinism I am giving them. I doubt they do.